The Ballot or the Bullet

The Ballot or the Bullet Summary and Analysis of The Ballot or the Bullet, Part 2


The Democrats, who promised equal rights for African-Americans, did not accomplish what they said they set out to do. They try to explain this by laying the blame on Dixiecrats, or southern Democrats, who continually vote against civil rights. According to Malcolm, Dixiecrats are Democrats; they’ve grown out of the Democratic party and are tolerated by it. Malcolm believes that President Johnson is a “southern segregationist from the state of Texas.”

The American government is controlled by 16 senatorial committees, 10 of which are comprised of southern segregationists, and 20 congressional committees, 12 of which are comprised of southern segregationists. The odds are stacked against the black community, and still they are being duped by ‘Uncle Toms’ who believe the false promises and the flawed logic of the white man.

A few weeks ago in Washington, Malcolm had a chance to look at the distribution of the black population on a map and found that the states with the highest density of African-Americans were also those in which the most filibustering attempts against civil rights legislation were taking place. This is because those same filibustering senators were afraid of the rights that would be granted to African-Americans if the bill went through.

The constitution decrees that if “the voting rights of a people in a certain district are violated, then the representative who’s from that particular district…is supposed to be expelled from the Congress.” If this was enforced, says Malcolm, there wouldn’t be a white man in Washington.

While the South overtly fights against the black community gaining power, the North covertly robs African-Americans of their vote by gerrymandering, or manipulating the boundaries of an electoral constituency so as to achieve a desired result. If African-Americans cannot gain equality through working the existing political system (the ballot), then they must resort to outright revolution (the bullet). The white man will not win in an outright war with the African-American community, says Malcolm X, because he relies on all the tools of traditional warfare—tanks, planes, bombs—but the black man understands guerilla warfare; he has spent his whole life getting by on what he has: nerve and a knife.

The next move, in elevating the African-American struggle from one of civil rights to one of human rights, is to take the issue to the United Nations and charge America with violating the UN Charter.

In the final paragraphs of "The Ballot or the Bullet," Malcolm X advocates again for unification through black nationalism. While others may believe that integration will grant them freedom, Malcolm X believes that separation will grant them freedom. But what unites everyone in the African-American community is the desire for that freedom, an end to their oppression.


Instead of following through on their promises of civil rights legislation, the Democrats prioritized other legislative acts and left the struggle for civil rights to the last minute. This is what comes from putting the white man first, says Malcolm: he will always put you last. If the African-American community continues to blindly stick with the Democratic party, Malcolm asserts, then they are race traitors. This view is in keeping with the general tone of the speech, which moves between accusation, humor, and efforts at inciting a more active stance about black oppression in America.

When President Johnson came into power, he claimed that because he was from the South he would be better able to sway it. Same with Mississippi Senator James Eastland (a prominent opposer of the civil rights movement), Malcolm remarks sarcastically; in fact, because he so identifies with the racist ethos of the South, he probably “can deal with the South better than Johnson.” This epithet is characteristic of the bitter humor that marks much of "The Ballot or the Bullet." It is a rhetorical device Malcolm X repeatedly utilizes, to great effect.

Then, in a swift switch from humor to accusation, Malcolm decries the African-American community for “be(ing) had…be(ing) took.” He intimates that African-Americans have been gleefully hoodwinked by white America so as to ensure that those segregationist senators from states with a significant African-American presence will remain in office. The notion that these senators should remain in power is, to Malcolm X, unconstitutional, because the constitution dictates that any representative from a state in which the rights of a people are categorically violated ought to be deposed. If the Democratic party were actually in support of civil rights, then it would support the removal of the Dixiecrats, but to depose the Dixiecrats would be to smear the Democratic party and to rob it of its political sway in the South.

As such, northern Democrats are working with southern Democrats to make it seem like they are for civil rights when they aren’t; they’re playing both sides to their own benefit, and tricking African-Americans into villainizing the Dixiecrats when the Democrats are just as bad. In fact, Lyndon B. Johnson’s close friend was Richard Russell, who famously filibustered against the bill and would later go on to offer the final arguments against the bill on behalf of the segregationists. Malcolm X uses this fact to prove his point that “a vote for a Democrat is nothing but a vote for a Dixiecrat.” He anticipates that this view will be met with resistance, and employs the tactic of positioning himself as a speaker of hard but necessary truths—someone who is here to level with the audience, person to person. “I know you don’t like me saying that,” he says. “I’m not the kind of person who come here to say what you like. I’m going to tell you the truth whether you like it or not.”

Northerners use gerrymandering to deny the black community its voting rights by allowing them to vote but manipulating the boundaries of the district so that the vote is meaningless. If the South are “wolves,” the North are “foxes.” Both are canine, Malcolm remarks sardonically, and yet African-Americans are the ones in the doghouse.

Malcolm X says that no revolution in history has ever been peaceful. Even in Hollywood, he jokes, revolutions are bloody. Bloodiest of all was the American Revolution. But today, America has the chance to participate in a bloodless revolution, if only it grants African-Americans the rights they deserve. He hopes that white America will be able to take this opportunity, because if it doesn’t, the State will not win, should the fight for equal rights turn violent.

America, Malcolm X claims, can no longer win in wars waged “on the ground.” It relies on the atomic bomb and other indirect weapons like air attacks and napalm. Robbed of these tools, the white man is outnumbered; “there are more Black people on Earth,” Malcolm X says, “than there are white people.”

According to him, the situation facing African-Americans is nothing less than a government conspiracy. The struggle to pass the Civil Rights Act is not an issue of filibustering segregationists, but of a government that violates the citizenship of its people. Thus, appealing directly to the government won’t result in meaningful change. The country must be taken to the International Court of Justice at the United Nations and brought up on charges of genocide. How can America possibly call itself the leader of the free world when it has the blood of millions of African-Americans on its hands? It is preposterous, Malcolm X says, that white America would bemoan the plight of the Jews or the South Africans, and not recognize its own grievous misdeeds.

No more, he declares, because the time has come for the black community to unite under black nationalism. The white man has too long divided them by categorizing one branch of the civil rights movements as pro-separation and one as pro-integration; they are both pro-freedom, and therefore their agenda is shared.

In conclusion, Malcolm X condemns any church depicting Jesus, Mary, and Joseph as white as preaching white nationalism. Let African-Americans gather only in churches that preach black nationalism, churches that advocate for and elevate the position of black people in America. It is of the utmost importance, he says, that the African-American community be a part of only those organizations that are devoted to fighting for civil rights.